Because of the incredible sustained popularity of single malt whisky, the number of independent bottlers has grown exponentially in the last few years. Many of the people behind these ventures start out just like you and me, as simple whisky enthusiasts. But then they get the urge to do something more and they buy their first cask. And another. And then two more. Before they even realise it, they’re in the independent bottling game. In a nutshell, that’s pretty much what happened with Manu and Bruno of Double-V, a young Belgium bottler that has released three single casks so far: a Tomatin 2011, a Miltonduff 2008 and a Ledaig 2009.
Manu and Bruno live in the same town in Belgium and share not just a passion for whisky, but also for cycling and cooking on their Green Eggs. Both have lived abroad for long periods, they are engineers and each has an entrepreneurial streak. Over the years they’ve amassed an impressive portfolio of casks, which allows them to bottle exclusively from their own stock. It also means that the majority of their casks is still fairly young, as they only buy spirit ranging from new make to a maximum of 10 years old.
For Double-V they usually buy refill bourbon casks, deciding afterwards if they want to bottle, re-rack, or simply do nothing and let nature take its course for a few more years. Buying young and bottling only from their own stock gives Manu and Bruno a certain control they otherwise wouldn’t have had. ‘We don’t like to rely on small 3cl samples to decide wether or not to buy older casks’, Manu explains. ‘In many cases it’s not even possible to try before you buy. Now we can simply request samples from our own casks to make a decision about their future.’
Manu and Bruno often decide to let their casks mature for a while longer, but they’ve also re-racked a number of them. Two of these have already been bottled. Firstly, the Tomatin 2011 was finished for 18 months in a rum cask. Secondly, the Miltonduff 2008 has spent several years in a 2nd-fill Pedro Ximénez cask. Their third bottling, a Ledaig from 2009, didn’t need any interfering and has spent its entire lifespan in a refill hogshead.
In the future, Double-V wants to keep bottling affordable releases, which is something they should be able to do, considering they already own a fairly large amount of casks. ‘We want to champion whisky’, says Manu. ‘You can’t do that by only releasing bottles that cost over than 200 euros.’
Tomatin 2011 9 Years (58.5%, Double-V, C#106/2011)
Nose: Whiffs of sweet banana, ripe apples and vanilla pods with some light floral touches and bung cloth. Notes of egg custard, funky green veggies, fermented green grapes and a whisper of dry oak too, but also brown sugar, wood glue and candied oranges. Much more elegant than the age and ABV suggest.
Taste: Peppery and somewhat drying and bitter, yet creamy and juicy as well, which admittedly doesn’t make much sense. Notes of nutmeg, aniseed and white grapes, but also fennel and green olives. Quite an interesting experience.
Finish: Long, spicy and drying. Finally a whiff of cough syrup and some gentle orchard fruits.
Miltonduff 2008 11 Years (62.7%, Double-V, C#180612)
Nose: The Pedro Ximénez influence is noticeable yet not domineering. Touches of tobacco leaves, cocoa powder and juicy red berries, but also a whiff of Bols elderflower liqueur. Finally some mush banana, crème de cassis and a barely noticeable whisper of damp cloth. After giving it some more time umami flavours come out, like baked mushrooms and soy sauce.
Taste: The high ABV is no issue at all, although it is pretty dry. It arrives on a touch of gunpowder with cracked black peppercorns and cloves. Some After Eight, as well as earthy tobacco leaves and roasted peanuts.
Finish: Lingering spices. Drying. Finally some light notes of dark chocolate.
Ledaig 2009 11 Years (54%, Double-V, C#700036)
Nose: More mellow and less in your face than many previous young Ledaig I’ve tasted. The peat smoke is actually quite gentle (smouldering embers and ashy), leaving room for sweet stone fruits. It’s slightly waxy with some nice pickled lemons, as well as soft notes of sauerkraut, cinnamon and apple skin.
Taste: Pretty beastly compared to the nose, yet with plenty of complexity. The lovely oily, waxy, mouthcoating spirit elevates this to a high level. Lots of soot, fresh tarmac and diesel, with a good amount of chili heat, Maldon sea salt and some charred lemon peel. Water brings out a touch of grapefruit and rubber.
Finish: More of the above. Long.
Clearly my favourite of the bunch, the Ledaig simply wins on balance and mouthfeel alone. It has the lowest ABV of this trio, yet is so incredibly weighty.
The rum cask has left an interesting footprint on the Tomatin. The nose is complex and dynamic, but the palate can’t quite keep up. Same goes for the Miltonduff, which I scored just below the Tomatin, because the latter just is a tad more integrated.
Thanks so much to Bruno and Manu of Double-V for allowing me to review their whiskies. The Ledaig, Miltonduff and Tomatin are available at the Whiskybase Shop.